Monday, August 14, 2017

Why isn't Lady Science marching for science? The view from San Diego

There were many, many marches on April 22, 2017. All for science. And yet, Lady Science was not present, nor was Mother Nature - despite the hopes and wishes splashed on the posters that the marchers carried. 

Slogans claimed a partisanship of which Lady Science and Mother Nature are unaware. We, humans, may wish that the universe or nature or Terra (Earth) has positive goals and good vibrations, but what with crashing black holes, cataclysmic events in the universe and on earth, the appearance and disappearance of species, continents, polar ice caps, and the like over billions of years, we should quickly realize our anthropomorphisms, personifications and projections of our human needs and wants onto the material world is just that - wishful thinking, a very human enterprise.

"I'm with her," "Climate Justice" or "The Oceans are Rising and so are we" are words and emotions that we, as humans, may care deeply about. 

But Mother Nature and Lady Science don't care at all - except in our fantasies about what these personae ought to be.

Put even more bluntly, science and nature are about what is and not what ought to be. That is an illogical leap of faith that may be supported by religious, humanistic and other ideological values, but not by logic or the practice of science.  Yes, we humans get motivated by values - but these are grounded in religious and other ideological systems.

March for Science, San Diego / At the Civic Center
Science is about method, not about imposing human values

Neither Lady Science, nor Mother Nature, give a whit about the climate or climate change. Those that think they do may also believe that God is a man with a long white beard or that he or she walked in the Garden of Eden. These are wishes and wants personified and anthropomorphized.

As all scientists, and non-scientists, know, science is about method, about empirical description and testing hypotheses. It is not about what ought to be, but what is.

The imposition of what ought to be, what should be done, is a matter of values - values from our religion, our secular humanism, our codes of conduct, our visions inscribed in 3D sci-fi movies, but not found within the domain of the scientific method. 

And yet, there are those who are marching in the belief that science wants something to be done -- to do X, Y or Z. That is an example of emotional attachment, but not of critical thinking.

The 97% error

One too often hears that 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real. I would imagine that the percent is really 100%, especially since climate change has been affecting earth for billions of years. There are no denialists of this understanding of climate change.

A cautionary note:  Any analysis that enters into the climate change picture in recent history (rather than geological time) is subject to ad hominem attacks, especially by those who fear the worst and are alarmed more by refrigeration than by terrorism. The perspective taken here is one of climate realism (not alarmism).  The 'threat' analysis by Dr. Judith Curry, a climatologist with considerable research and publications, is instructive for those who understand the uncertainty in climate modeling:  Discussion of climate threat and risk that connote impending damage and that such is quantifiable and avoidable "mislead the public debate on climate change — any damages from human caused climate change are not imminent, we cannot quantify the risk owing to deep uncertainties, and any conceivable policy for reducing CO2 emissions will have little impact on the hypothesized damages in the 21st century."

Back to the 97% error .  .  . 

Unfortunately most who recite the 97% mantra are unaware that the number is the result of bad statistics.  

John Cook of the Global Change Institute in Australia, created this number from his review of published scientific papers, "over 97 percent [of papers surveyed] endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.”

Alex Epstein analyzes Cook's argument:  “'Main cause' means “over 50 percent. But the vast majority of papers don’t say that human beings are the main cause of recent warming. In fact, one analysis showed that less than 2 percent of papers actually said that. How did Cook get to 97 percent, then? First, he added papers that explicitly said there was man-made warming but didn’t say how much. Then, he added papers that didn’t even say there was man-made warming, but he thought it was implied."

There are numerous articles refuting the claim that such a majority of scientists believe that climate change (as global warming) is dangerous - that it is occurring and by how much is a matter of climate scientific investigation, Here we enter into the split between social science, polling data and physical science. The divide between these two perspectives is immense.

Faculty preparing to join the main group at the Civic Center
Are there 'alternative facts'?

Sitting as a juror, one can listen to attorneys for the defense and the prosecution argue a different set of 'facts' - sometimes they simply mean that one witness is more believable than the another, or that each side takes on experts who argue their own theory of causation or that the defendant is insane or not, and the like. A different world of events and responsibility is painted by opposing attorneys. We accept this advocacy model of 'facts' because that is what lawyers do in our legal system. And then the jury gets to vote on which set of facts are determinative for their collective verdict. A consensus as it were.

But is this what we expect of the scientific process and scientific facts?

Poster / No Alternative Facts in Science
Let us take an instructive example.

Ulcers are caused by stress. Or so said medical science prior to 1986. Then a scientist, Barry Marshall, argued that it was a bacterium for the large majority of ulcers - Helicobacter pylori. And he won a Nobel Prize in 2005 for his argument or theory or, if we prefer, fact. 

Medical science as well as all branches of science proceeds by leaps and bounds - with alternative facts becoming the new 'truth.'

Here is an interesting comment by Barry Marshall, the proponent of the bacterium cause for ulcers:

"There's a saying, 'Science is not a democracy.' It doesn't matter how many millions of people there are on the other side. There's one right, and it's perfectly possible for all the rest to be wrong. And ultimately all those guys were proved wrong, and they either retired or they came over the side of Helicobacter .  .   .  David Graham said, "The great thing about Marshall's theory is that if he's wrong, it's going to be so easy to disprove." The point he was making was that if it's a good hypothesis, you can test it. And ours was very testable; you just had to give people antibiotics and see if they got better. And they did. So everybody who was trying to prove us wrong, if they were good scientists, they just changed sides."

So, what about climate science?  Are we in the 'stress causes ulcers' or 'bacterium causes ulcers' arc of scientific knowledge?

Would you bet your life on 'humans cause the large proportion of climate change' or on 'humans may contribute a small percentage of climate change'?  

Some considerations before you make your wager:

1.  Our knowledge of how much climate will change is based on computer models - none of which have been correct over the years.  The models are said to run 'hot' - and need to be scaled back to observation data.

2.  The list of failed climate predictions is long. Failure of scientific predictions in general has an even longer list. Are these predictions 'facts'? Here is a typical surprise - but is the surprise an 'alternative fact' or are the predictions 'alternative facts'?  When does something become a 'fact'? (Which is critically important in the climate science debate since the impacts are predicted to the end of the century.)

From CNN: 

Where have all the hurricanes gone?  Sept. 14, 2013

"Call it a meteorological mystery: Forecasters warned that there would be at least six Atlantic hurricanes this season, but so far we've seen only one."
"It's the first year in recent memory that every major hurricane forecast has busted after pointing to 'above normal activity.'" 
3.  The data continues to be debated or, perhaps, finagled in questionable ways to hype global warming:  Australia Weather Bureau Caught Tampering With Climate Numbers, August 2, 2017.

4.  Red Teaming?  Given the intense debate over the nature and extent of climate change, especially in relation to human activity, and the trillions of dollars poised to be spent in corrective measures which may be unnecessary or poorly considered, the better approach may not be one of pitting a 'consensus' vs. 'alternative facts,' but of having an independent analysis that challenges the official dogma. That's called Red Teaming.  Red Teaming has proven useful in various endeavors and such would force pro and con to debate the science in an neutral forum.

Posters / I'm with her and Make America Scientific Again
The Anxiety and the Politics
The participants in the March for Science appear to be caught up in anti-President Trump hysteria than seeking science.  The politicization of science may be good for partisanship, but it does little for the merits of the climate science debate. 

There's another aspect of this marching. I suspect that many fear that even if their facts are not quite right, but even if there's a far-out but potential risk of catastrophic damage from anthropogenic caused climate change, it's worth spending trillions of dollars as an insurance policy.

Bret Stephens took up this and other questions in questions from readers of the New York Times. Particularly telling is his response to this insuring for the future:

"How much [insurance[? Homeowners will buy fire insurance, but they’ll also weigh the price in light of their overall needs. We need to hedge against prospective risks. We need to provide for current needs. The climate-advocacy community sometimes conveys the impression that all of this is not just necessary, but relatively straightforward and affordable. I wish it were that simple.

"A decade ago we were plowing money into ethanol subsidies as one response to climate change. But that turned out to be not just environmentally destructive but was also arguably responsible for the spike in food prices that soon followed, as farmers turned away from cultivating corn for human consumption to cultivating it for ethanol production. Another example: The New York Times recently reported on the massive increase in smog over London. The cause?

"Let me quote from the story:

“The British government provided financial incentives to encourage a shift to diesel engines because laboratory tests suggested that would cut harmful emissions and combat climate change. Yet, it turned out that diesel cars emit on average five times as much emissions in real-world driving conditions as in the tests, according to a British Department for Transport study.”

"In other words, to say we want to take out insurance for climate change is perfectly sensible. But whether we know we’re buying the right insurance, at the right price, is less clear, and it behooves us to look closely at the fine print before we sign on."

Posters at the Civic Center / Dump Trump, Global Warming is Real, and Trump/Pruitt, Extinction Level Event
Poster at Water Park, County Administration Building / If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate (Trump)
How should we prioritize our societal problems?
Should we be more concerned about social problems confronting us in the immediate future or those a century from now?  Ought we not pay attention to what is in front of us?

Just outside the science event, scattered along the streets, there were the homeless. Looking to get by or just looking. How strange to March for Science .  .  .  how about more immediate help?

Homeless in San Diego - Not on the march route

Most survey respondents, when asked in 2014 about what problems need attention, rank the problem of environment/pollution low when presented with the range of societal concerns. Three years later, the ranking of the environment/pollution is still low.

 From the monthly Gallup poll:
"What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?"  [2017]

If you are looking for an answer to these societal concerns, you can look to the government (local, state and federal) or you can March for X, Y and Z. Or, you can meditate on the inability of humankind to solve these problems. One can think of King Canute in the 12th century being asked that he hold back the waves. And now we are asked to control the global climate. 

Humility may be the key to such worries and demands.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Adding texture to 2D images: A fused glass overstrate approach

Taking a photograph is easy - unless, of course, you haven't taken a photograph before or cameras haven't been invented. Other difficulties that could be encountered in learning a new craft are assumptions about what words mean though they have a different sensibility as well novel aspects of that require some direct contact.  (See an example of traditional Japanese artistry using video.)

Perhaps, even more basic to a new technique and materials is the ever present question: "So what?" or "Why bother? I'm happy with flat 2D art."

My comments are not intended to persuade anyone to follow the approach sketched out below but to provide a description of this adventure in art along with several images (albeit handicapped by presentation on a 2D monitor).

I first tried working in glass at a workshop at San Diego City College that was offered as part of an exhibit by the Digital Art Guild in 2016.

Example 1:  Transfer image 

Joe Nalven, Meditation in Glass
This approach allowed the artist to print the image to transfer paper which, when soaked in water, was slipped off the paper substrate and onto the glass. One could paint on the the glass or add some glass elements to it. We were asked to pick a separate piece of glass that would later go over the first layer (to encapsulate the image). 

The result was intriguing - combining a soft and delicate sepia image with a variety of specialty paints and glass pieces. The bubbles might not have been attractive to those identifying themselves as 'glass artists,' but to someone who wanted to add texture to what was ordinarily a 2D flat image, the bubbles that were frozen in glass added dimensionality.

What I didn't realize was that when the glass was fired in the kiln, the base image was fired onto the bottom layer of glass allowing all but the iron oxide and carbon elements to remain - otherwise those gasses would form a giant black mass (carbon residue that did not burn off) in the encapsulated fused glass object.

I didn't realize the black mass  result when I went to a private glass art venue.* And we had several disappointing failures. Eventually, we solved this problem.

While working out the problem, I decided to try a different approach.
What if I just created a fused glass object that would lie over the printed image - in effect, an 'overstrate.'**

In either case, whether using a substrate or an overstrate, I was able to create the illusive one-of-a-kind that painters and sculptors claimed for themselves. Prints, whether photographic, digital composition, woodcut and the like, were always multiples (unless the artist simply printed one image and destroyed the matrix image used to make many copies or many 'originals'). 

By mixing media, joining a different substrate or overstrate, each image becomes an original - and not a multiple.

This may not be a concern for 2D flat artists who see themselves as working within that geometry. But, I was bedeviled by that frame of reference and wanted to work with both the 2D flat geometry as well as a 3D textured one.

So, where did my adventure with a fused glass overstrate take me?
Example 2a: Fused glass overstrate with image printed on the reverse side of the glass

       Joe Nalven, Icon (edited photograph) (Left)                               Joe Nalven, Icon (added fused glass elements presented in a light box) (Right)

The left hand image above shows an integration of two separates images. The idea was to recreate the icon used in Early Christianity dating back to the 3rd Century CE. 

The left hand image was placed below the bottom piece of glass to serve as a reference to where the red fritz in the halo would go as well as for locating the blue black dots inside the halo.  A second piece of glass was placed over the bottom glass (encapsulated) and then fired at about 1400 degrees in a kiln. 

When the encapsulated glass object came out of the kiln, I took the image to a print shop that specialized in prints for artists.***  I had the image of the icon printed on the back side of the glass overstrate.  Unless one actually looked on the reverse side of the glass, one might think the image was fused into the glass when it went into the kiln. However, digital inks would have burned off. 

Example 2b:

Joe Nalven, Eden (edited 2D photographic image) (Left)            Joe Nalven, Eden (glass overstrate with image printed on back of glass) (Right)
The second example shows a different placement of glass oddments (fritz, broken glass pieces) over the reference image. The embellishment of the glass rests with the artist's intuition about placement and type of additions - if one's objective is to retain artistic integrity and the one-of-a-kindness. 

One could ask, "Well, is the fused glass embellishment integrated with the 2D flat image any 'better' than simply presenting the 2D flat image?" 

Yes and no.  First, there is the question of artist's and viewer's preference - image on paper, on metal, with a plexiglass overlay?  The fused glass overstrate adds a mixed media element that may or may not accentuate the original image.  Second, it is possible to print the image on duratran, which is a semi-opaque surface. One could simply put this substrate with image into a light box and obtain a remarkable result as well (different from the image on paper with no illumination and different from an illuminated image with a fused glass enhancement). Yet another variation.****

If one looks at my own art, the variation in style and technique is evident. The adventure continues .  .  .

*   Joe's Glass Shack, 2426 Auto Park Way, Escondido, CA 92029

** Previously, I created texture by distressing a sheet of aluminum by brushing it and by adding patinas that would add color and corrode the metal. I created a ground or a substrate upon which I could laminate an image printed on mylar. Here, I inverted the process as it were:  I created a textured object that would float above the image (an 'overstrate') instead of having the object (the distressed aluminum) underneath the image (a 'substrate).

*** Pixel 2 Editions, 9520 Padgett St #103, San Diego, CA 92126

**** Kaz Maslanka creates mathematical poetic imagery printed on duratran and set into a light box. I was attracted to Maslanka's image presentation and was guided by his advice on the choice of light box. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Art of the Shortest Novel: How we connect and disconnect from each other

Umberto Eco anointed Augusto Monterroso as the author of the shortest novel.

El Dinosaurio ('The Dinosaur')
Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí. 
"When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there."

Instead .  .  .

What if we considered how we connected, or disconnected, to those around us? What novels would we write if we could look upon our personal world?

This personal world would be more than the sum of kinship, of friends and acquaintances, and more than the semi-random meetings of those we encounter as we walk through the day.

How might we describe these personal worlds?

I asked my students to take on this challenge. These are several of their novels.

Irene Hurtado: Screen
I have not touched my loved ones and too often touched strangers.

Omar Soto: The Border
The border is my daily enemy, long lines, long waits, all this just to be in this place.

Grecia Montes:  Mujer (Woman)
Nací siendo mujer, el sueño mas bello, la pesadilla mas horrible, machismo en mi cultura.
"Born a woman, the most beautiful dream, the most terrifying nightmare, machismo in my culture."

Ivonne Arriaga: Two Worlds
She was part of two worlds, but not both.

Cassandra Ordaz: The Ride
The world ended with a velociraptor riding a white shark.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Trolley Dancin' from Barrio Logan to Fault Line Park

This year's Trolley Dances returned to Barrio Logan but with new twists and outbound visits to the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown and then on to Fault Line Park.  The Trolley Dances continues the emerging San Diego culture - a thank you is owed to Jean Isaacs and the San Diego Dance Theater.

What always fascinates me is thinking about dance and the variety of spaces in which they are performed.  This is not your usual theater performance and not simply outdoors.  There is a connection between the choreographer's concept, the musical framing of the dance, and how the dancers engage with each other and the venue. 

I've included two short videos that provide a bridge from these still images and the performance itself. 

Hopefully you find the time to explore these dances as well as the re-invigorated Barrio Logan community and travel with them to the Museum of Contemporary Art as well as to the lesser known (to me) Fault Line Park.

Me and My Car, choreographer Jean Isaacs with Minaqua McPherson and JT Magee
The choreographer's concept:  "Ever think how much people resemble their cars? .  .  .  My car has 214,000 miles on it and runs great despite its many scratches and dents - just like me. We are dancing in and on our cars on the 4th level of the parking structure .  .  .  . "

Me and My Car

Video excerpt from Me and My Car

Follow Us Here, Choreographer Jess Humphrey
The choreographer's concept:  "Behold, follow, leave, or find any dancer or dance you wish throughout this site-sensitive performance."

When: October 1 and 2, 2016
Tour Times: 10:00, 10:45, 11:30, 12:15, 1:00, 1:45

Where: Begins at San Diego Continuing Education César E. Chávez Campus Parking Garage
1902 National Avenue, corner of Cesar Chavez Parkway 
Trolley Dances brings original site-specific dances to the MTS Blue Line starting in the historic Barrio Logan and winding through the heart of San Diego ending at Fault Line Park, all led by trained tour guides. A stellar team of choreographers are on board to create newwork that is sure to delight and engage.
Site locations: 
César E. Chávez Campus Parking Garage
Lobby of the SD Continuing Education César E. Chávez Campus Museum of Contemporary Art

Walkway across from MOCA
Fault Line Park

Follow Us Here

attempts to define, Choreographer Zaquia Mahler Salinas, in collaboration with the dancers
The choreographer's concept:  "This dance is inspired by the beauty in individual expression of identity and history. Art is a radical expression of humanity that lies at the root of the Chicano art displayed in this space and at the heart of this dance."

[Note: I am reminded of my long ago documenting and exploring the notion of Chicano identity: “Some Notes on Chicano Music as a Pathway to Community Identity,” in New Scholar 5,1:73-93. (1975)]

attempts to define

Finding Center, Choreographer Bill Shannon
The choreographer's concept:  "Inhabiting a square anywhere in the world involves the same basic patterns of physical behavior as my practice defines it: To claim the center of a given square one need first define its edges. Working with non-verbal relationships relating to human patterns I might choose to define my edges as counter to the sociological constructs that predetermine the definition of a place. I might submit to or contest the power of architecture. Even the shadow cast from a building carries a different mood than the shadows cast from a tree. This dance is a question with no right answers."

Up a Creek with Ten Paddles, Choreographer Jean Isaacs, with input from the dancers
The choreographer's concept: "Inspired by a television ad for an insurance company in which a man rows on escalators, lawns and in canoes, this piece was created for the northwest corner of Fault Line Park and is extremely site-specific, meaning we could never perform it anywhere else without major reconstruction."

Tonight's Game, Choreographer Monica Bill Barnes
The choreographer's concept: "There are a few things that you may not know about this dance, this lawn is one of the most popular dog parks in the city and therefore full of dog poop so please watch your step. Also, there are small black flies that bite the dancers' ankles, even through their socks. A few of the dancers are allergic to grass. . . ."

Tonight's Game

Reflective Globe at Fault Line Park